By Michael Cox
Silk Racing’s decision to set champion Almond Eye for Hong Kong’s International Races, forgoing a shot at a second straight G1 Japan Cup, was made with the champion mare’s longevity in mind and connections say they are not concerned about the city’s ongoing civil unrest.
Almond Eye has won eight of her ten starts, including six G1s, and stormed to victory in what many feel was a career-best performance against a star-studded field in last month’s G1 Tenno Sho.
Connections had to decide between a shot at a second straight Japan Cup – leaving one month between runs – or the HK$28 million Hong Kong Cup on December 8, that gives the four-year-old a more relaxed six weeks to recover.
Despite her dominance, Almond Eye has at times struggled with her post-race recovery and Silk Racing’s CEO Masashi Yonemoto said the longer gap between runs was pivotal to the decision.
“Of course the Japan Cup was a consideration but after checking the horse after the Tenno Sho we decided to give her more time and leave space for her to go to Hong Kong,” he said.
Hong Kong Jockey Club officials have obviously been lobbying hard for the international drawcard to come to Hong Kong and Yonemoto said he “was not worried” about travelling the horse or the intense protests that have continued for more than 20 weeks now in the city, causing the postponement of one meeting and heightened security at racecourses.
“We have been in regular contact with Hong Kong Jockey Club officials with regards to any possible issues, and we are not concerned about safety,” he said. “We have had a lot of discussion and we are not worried about racing at Sha Tin.”
The Silk Racing spokesman also assured racing fans that, providing Almond Eye comes through December’s race unscathed, it would not be the last they would see of her on a racecourse.
“This is not intended to be her last run,” he Yonemoto said.
“We have been in regular contact with Hong Kong Jockey Club officials with regards to any possible issues, and we are not concerned about safety,” Silk Racing CEO Masachi Yonemoto.
Almond Eye was dominant last start at 2,000m and electric at 1,800m in the G1 Dubai Turf earlier in the year, but she also broke the 2,400m track record at Tokyo in last year’s Japan Cup. With that in mind, Yonemoto said a start over 2,400m in the G1 Hong Kong Vase, which is worth less at HK$20m, but arguably an easier option, was discussed.
“The reason we chose the Hong Kong Cup was that we thought it was the best fit for distance for her,” he said, echoing regular jockey Christophe Lemaire’s sentiments when he spoke to Asian Racing Hub before the Tenno Sho.
“I think the 2000m at Sha Tin is perfect for her,” he said in the lead-up to her last start win. “The straight at Sha Tin is long enough for her and she likes good ground, so it would be a good race for her. The way she runs, I think 2,000m is her best trip. ”
Almond Eye’s biggest threats in the race may come from fellow Japanese raider Win Bright, who won the G1 QEII Cup earlier this year, or G1 Nassau Stakes winner Deidre, although connections have yet to confirm the latter will make the trip.